If You Want To Humble An Empire

  • Share
  • Read Later
LYLE OWERKO / POLARIS

(8 of 20)

Vice President Dick Cheney was in his West Wing office when the Secret Service burst in, physically hurrying him out of the room. "We have to move; we're moving now, Sir; we're moving," the agents said as they took him to a bunker on the White House grounds. Once there, with members of the National Security staff and Administration officials, they told Cheney that a plane was headed for the White House. Mrs. Cheney and Laura Bush were brought in as well. Staff members in the Old Executive Office Building, across the street from the White House, were huddled in front of their TV screens when they heard from TV reporters that they were being evacuated. Then the tape loop began. "The building is being evacuated. Please walk to the nearest exit." "The looks were stone-faced," a staff member to the Vice President said. "They were just zombies," said another.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont was heading to the Supreme Court Building to speak to a group of appellate judges. He had already heard the news from New York City. As he walked into the court building, he heard a muffled boom outside. It was the plane attacking the Pentagon. "I've got to tell you before we start there's some horrible, horrible news coming in," Leahy told the roomful of judges. By the time he was leaving the building, there were already 20 cops surrounding it. As he neared the Russell Senate Office Building, a Capitol policeman walked up: "Senator, I don't know if you want to go back to your office," he warned. "They're evacuating the buildings."

"I've got a lot of staff still working there," Leahy snapped. "I'm not going to leave them in the building."

Washington was supposed to have contingency plans for disasters like this, but the chaos on the streets was clear evidence that plans still needed work. By 10:45 a.m. the downtown streets around the Capitol, government buildings and White House were laced with cars pointing in every direction, unable to move. A security officer for one of the buildings sat on a park bench. He had been locked out of his building, so he didn't have a clue if the senior officials inside were out and in a safe place. "I'm not surprised at this," he said. "We aren't prepared. We were supposed to have a plan to evacuate our Cabinet officer to a place 50 miles out, but none of that has been done." Capitol police were slow to move as well. There was no increased security, no heightened alert around the Capitol for fully half an hour after the New York attack. Senate minority leader Trent Lott was drafting a press release to condemn the attack when he looked outside his window and saw black smoke billowing up from across the Potomac. He didn't wait for an evacuation order. He gathered up his top staff and security detail and headed out of the Capitol, shocked to find that tourists were still walking into the building while he was fleeing it.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13
  14. 14
  15. 15
  16. 16
  17. 17
  18. 18
  19. 19
  20. 20